Hiking and Camping at George H. Crosby Manitou State Park
Hiking and Camping With Kids at George H. Crosby Manitou State Park
Of the 66 State Parks in Minnesota, George H. Crosby Manitou State Park is not the most popular. And that is EXACTLY why we like it! Find it near Finland, Minnesota on the North Shore of Lake Superior.
It is the North Shore’s least visited state park (and Minnesota’s 15th least visited). The larger, more popular state parks such as Gooseberry Falls, Tettetouche, and Split Rock Lighthouse tally 500,000 – 800,000 visitors annually. George H. Crosby Manitou State Park receives 43,500.
In this blog we will introduce you to this beautiful and remote Minnesota State Park and outline the things to do such as backpacking, camping, hiking, and trout fishing.
Why we chose to hike and camp at George H. Crosby Manitou State Park
We are avid campers, hikers, canoeists, and world travelers. Over the years we’ve visited distant lands such as Japan and South Africa. Regardless of how exciting those trips are, we are always drawn to our true north on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.
I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s the smell of the red pine needles as they are crushed underfoot? Maybe it’s the roar of the mighty rivers as they pour into Lake Superior? Or maybe it’s that feeling of solitude that only comes with true wilderness experiences. Whatever the reason, we come back to Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior every year looking to settle our minds and souls.
Decades of exploration have ticked off the more popular spots like Duluth, Grand Marais, Tettegouche, and Split Rock Lighthouse. One would think that we would be running out of new experiences. That couldn’t be farther from the truth!
We decided to give George H. Crosby Manitou State Park a try based on the advice of an old neighbor who spent many of his 80 years exploring the North Shore, MN. His pitch to visit this remote and rugged state park involved wilderness, solitude, hiking, and waterfalls. What more could you want?
Things to know about George H. Crosby Manitou State Park
The park is rustic and geared for backpackers, trout fishermen, and those looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure. As a result, it does not have many of the amenities offered by the more conventional Minnesota State Parks. But don’t let that scare you! George H. Crosby Manitou State Park has everything you need to immerse yourself in nature and enjoy your North Shore escape!
Vault toilets are available year-round near the parking lot. There are field latrines at each backcountry campsite. Drinking water is available at the hand pump just after the entrance kiosk. Water can also be filtered from Benson Lake or the Manitou River with your own personal water filter. The park does not have a visitor center, flush toilets, showers, etc.
There are 22 backpacking sites at the park with hikes ranging from ¼ mile to 4 ½ mile (each way). There are no car-camping or cart-in sites at this park – they are hike-in only. Camping is available year-round, however, the main parking area is closed in the winter.
There are 24 miles of dedicated hiking trails winding their way through the highlands of Lake Superior, and along the Manitou River where this park is situated. The terrain is rugged and provides an authentic backcountry hiking experience.
You can also access the Superior Hiking Trail, which runs from Duluth, Minnesota to the Canadian Border.
Planning a camping trip with kids
Our kids were six and eight on our first trip to the park. We stayed at campsite three, which was about a one-mile hike from the parking lot. Right next to us was another family at campsite four, which told us we weren’t entirely crazy! This trip was over Mother’s Day Weekend and Dad may or may not have forgotten the tent, so if you are up for a fun read, check out our blog post recapping that incredible adventure!
You will need to pack like you are going backpacking, which means overstuffed packs and little help from your little ones! We prefer to bring our Boundary Waters portage packs on these trips because they are comfortable, hold more volume than our hiking backpacks, and are easier to double up. We also bring our large food barrel. I know it is overkill but we like having all of our food, cookware, Jetboil stove, and other miscellaneous gear in one secure place away from camp.
Things to do at George Crosby Manitou State Park
The park is a beautiful example of Minnesota’s Northwoods. In addition to forest bathing in the remote and rugged landscape, things to do at George H. Crosby Manitou State Park include:
- Hike-in camping on Benson Lake or the Manitou River
- Hiking along 24 miles of trails that traverse Benson Lake and the Manitou River, with highland views of Lake Superior.
- Trout fishing on Benson Lake and the Manitou River
- Access the Superior Hiking Trail
As I mentioned, this park only offers hike-in camping. Each campsite has a vault toilet and recently upgraded fire pits with moveable grates. The fire pits are probably the nicest ones we’ve ever seen at a hike-in campsite!
There are two backpacking camping areas. The first is located on the shore of Benson Lake. These are a short 0.2-0.5 mile hike from the parking lot. Site numbers are 18, 19, 20,21, and 22.
If you are looking for more of a backcountry experience, then I recommend the sites along the Manitou River. Sites 1, 2, 3, or 4 are 1.0 to 1.5 miles each way. Take it from me, falling asleep to the sounds of the river will guarantee the best night’s sleep you’ve had in a very long time!
After camp is set up and everyone has a belly full of S’mores…now what?
Hiking! It is what you are basically here to do!
The park has 24 miles of trails in addition to the Superior Hiking Trail. The options are endless! We recommend starting with the following hikes and then branch out from there.
- Benson Lake (approx. 1 mi. loop) – This trail takes you from the parking lot around Benson Lake, which is a designated Trout Lake. If you plan to fish, make sure you buy Minnesota fishing license with a trout stamp. Benson Lake will make you feel like you are deep in the wilderness (you pretty much are!). Your kids will love bouncing along the boardwalks and playing in the super clean waters!
- Middle Trail (approx. 1.6 mi. in and out) – Middle Trail leaves right from the parking lot and doubles as a section of the Superior Hiking Trail. The trail is rugged with changes in elevation and some wet spots. The highlights are the three waterfalls that are at the end of the trail. These are easily among our top 5 favorite waterfalls on the North Shore, MN. They are well worth the effort! If you have younger kids, you could easily consider taking them on the hike in a baby carrier or backpack if you are up for the additional challenge.
- Middle Trail/Misquah Trail/Yellow Birch Trail Loop (2.5-3mi loop) – The whole point of this trail is to catch the lookout that is about halfway through the Misquah Trail. It sits high on a hill next to campsite six and has amazing views of the Manitou River valley and Lake Superior. While longer than the other two, it is 100% doable by kids and they will be rewarded for their tenacity! Just follow the Middle Trail from the parking lot and take a right on the Misquah trail after about 0.8 miles. Follow the Misquah trail until you see a turnoff for campsite six and the lookout. Once you have had lunch and enjoyed the views, continue on the Misquah Trail and take a right once it hits Yellow Birch Trail. This trail will bring you back to the parking lot.
Why should you choose this North Shore State Park as your next camping destination?
George H. Crosby Manitou State Park is a true wilderness experience right on Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior. It is well worth the adventure because is more rugged than other parks in the area, offers a rustic wilderness-like experience, has fewer people, and is located a bit off the beaten path.
The campsites are secluded with options for falling asleep to the steady rumble of the Manitou River. The hiking is top-notch and well-suited for young kids. Finally, the cascades on the Manitou River are arguably some of the wildest and most beautiful waterfalls on the North Shore, MN.
The kids can also explore the forest, play in the river, and do what kids should do. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to introduce kids to the adventure of backcountry camping and hiking, and provide some valuable lessons on important principles such as leave-no-trace.
Most importantly, your family will enjoy precious family time in nature, away from crowds, cars, artificial noise, and electronic devices. For us, the serenity and the opportunity for a little family “forest bathing” is the real attraction.
We absolutely loved our time at the park and would recommend it to anyone looking for a break from civilization in the heart of Minnesota’s North Shore. Or for frequent North Shore explorers looking for a new and exciting adventure.
Getting to George H. Crosby Manitou State Park
George H. Crosby Manitou State Park is located right in the heart of Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior, about 70 miles north of Duluth. To get there, follow the North Shore Scenic Drive (Highway 61) northeast from Duluth.
When you get to Tettegouche State Park just northeast of Silver Bay, Minnesota, you’re almost at the turn. Turn onto State Highway 1 in Illgen City to head into the highlands above Lake Superior.
Drive 6.2 miles and then turn right onto Cramer Road. Follow Cramer Rd. (a dirt/gravel road) for another 7.6 miles and the park entrance will be on your right.
Anthony Quill is a Minnesota dad and blogger who loves experiencing epic adventures with his wife and two kids. He is Twin Cities based but globally bound, traveling with his family everywhere from Minnesota’s North Shore to Morocco, Spain, and Italy. No matter the distance, he always returns to his roots on the North Shore, and in particular the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Learn more from his family’s adventures on their blog at From Tent To Takeoff, on Instagram at @fromtenttotakeoff, or on Facebook at @fromtenttotakeoff.
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